New research hopes to breed cattle with better 'compensatory growth' after winter

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Teagasc researchers in Grange are currently examining the possibility of farmers breeding cattle which have better compensatory growth potential.

The reasons for the research is simple. Feed represents the largest cost to beef production systems.

Thus, Teagasc says there is much interest in approaches to reduce the quantity of feed offered to beef cattle, particularly during the winter months, while at the same time maintaining animal performance.

One such strategy is by exploiting compensatory growth, a natural phenomenon whereby following a period of undernutrition (e.g., over winter) cattle have the potential to undergo accelerated growth when subsequently offered unrestricted access to high-quality feed (e.g., pasture).

While Teagasc says this practice of ‘storing’ cattle over winter, prior to turnout to pasture in spring, has been practised for generations in Ireland, farmers are well aware of the variation in the growth response between individual animals.

In order to examine this in more detail, the biology controlling this important trait and the reasons for the diffence in performance between animals, a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded study was conducted at Teagasc Grange.

 Teagasc says a number of potential genetic markers associated with greater compensatory growth potential were identified and these are now being validated through a large on-farm study, again funded by SFI.

As part of this study, 2,000 young Holstein-Friesian bulls will be weighed regularly on participating farms during both store and finishing periods.

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DNA profiles will be evaluated for genetic markers and subsequently associated with the degree of compensatory growth achieved by individual animals.

Teagasc says validated genetic markers from this study will be incorporated into the national genomically assisted breeding programme, with a view to more accurately identifying and breeding more feed-efficient and profitable cattle.

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